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The 2016 Magic City Classic: Matching up the two in-state rivals

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This year's Magic City Classic has all the makings of a great HBCU matchup. (File photo)

By Donald Hunt

For The Birmingham Times

This year's Magic City Classic has all the makings of a great HBCU matchup. (File photo)
This year’s Magic City Classic has all the makings of a great HBCU matchup. (File photo)

There are a number of black college football classics throughout the season. Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M battle in the Florida Classic each year. Grambling State and Southern University clash in the annual Bayou Classic.

However, the annual Magic City Classic between Alabama State and Alabama A&M is real special. The legendary HBCU classic will celebrate its 75th anniversary on Saturday, Oct. 29 at Legion Field in Birmingham at 3 p.m.

Although Alabama A&M (2-5 overall, 2-4 league) and Alabama State (2-5 overall, 2-4 league) have struggled this season, you can just throw the records out the window in this long time Southwestern Athletic Conference rivalry. These two schools will pack Legion Field. When you think about some of the recent standouts who have played in this game, names such as Robert Mathis (Alabama A&M, Indianapolis Colts) and Isaiah Crowell (Alabama State, Cleveland Browns) immediately come to mind. The history is long and strong.

This latest group of Bulldogs and Hornets will be a part of this long and storied history. Both teams will be come into this contest well rested from the bye week. They both have victories in their last two games. And those wins were very impressive for Alabama A&M and Alabama State.

AAMU

Alabama A&M defeated Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 40-7, in a game where they really dominated the Golden Lions. The Bulldogs have some exciting players on offense. Freshman running back Jordan Bentley has been sensational this season. In the victory over UAPB, he had 11 carries for 91 yards and one touchdown. Bentley is one of the top freshmen not only in the SWAC, but in the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision). He has scored seven touchdowns and eight TDs overall. Bentley has rushed for 576 yards. He’s averaging 82.3 yards a game.

De’Angelo Ballard, Alabama A&M’s dual threat quarterback, completed 17-of-27 passes for 214 yards with one TD and no interceptions against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Ballard was a big part of the Bulldogs’ ground attack. He had 15 rushing attempts for 83 yards and scored three TDs. Ballard has completed 97-of-203 passes for 1,253 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions. He has rushed for 437 yards on 106 carries with six rushing touchdowns.

Ballard has the ability to throw the ball down the field. His top pass catchers have been wide receiver Tevin McKenzie (32 receptions for 346 yards and tight end Jonathan Dorsey (16 catches for 310 yards and three touchdowns).

Defensively, Alabama A&M will rely on its playmakers to create turnovers. Linebacker Kenneth Davis has been outstanding all year long. Davis has 70 total and 29 solo tackles with two sacks. Cornerbacks Devonte Simon and Tere Calloway have been stellar in the secondary. Simon has 28 total and 20 solo tackles with two interceptions. Calloway has been great against the run with 46 total and 33 solo tackles.

ASU

On the other side of the ledger, Alabama State should have some momentum following its 56-24 win over Mississippi Valley State. Like the Bulldogs, the Hornets have a strong rushing attack. Alabama State running back Khalid Thomas is the second leading rusher in the SWAC. Thomas has 680 yards on 103 carries. He has also scored six touchdowns. He’s averaging 6.6 yards a carry.

The Hornets’ quarterback Quinterris Toppings has shown flashes of brilliance this season. Toppings has connected on 98-of-169 passes for 1,110 yards with six TDs and seven interceptions. He can run out of the pocket. Toppings has 67 carries for 209 yards and four touchdowns. His key receivers are Willis White (28 receptions for 265 yards, one TD), Nygel Lee (14 receptions for 205 yards and two TDs) and Josh Davis (13 catches for 150 yards and 1 TD). Lee is the big play receiver averaging 14.6 yards a reception.

Defensively, linebacker Kourtney Berry has been solid for Alabama State. Berry has 38 total and 15 solo tackles and two sacks. He has great anticipation from his linebacking position. Linebacker Darron Johnson has been one of the leaders on defense. Johnson has played the run extremely well with 42 total and 28 solo tackles.

This year’s Magic City Classic has all the makings of a great HBCU matchup.